NYC micro-units look like local ‘innovation housing’ — without innovation

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg looks over a 2-D layout of a proposed “micro-unit” apartment with Amanda Burden, his commissioner of city planning. (Photo: Edward Reed)

In housing, New York is following Cambridge and Boston.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a contest Monday for architects that will seem familiar to residents and readers: to develop “micro-units” of 275 to 300 square feet to rent for about $2,000 a month.

Units this small aren’t allowed under New York City zoning, but if the winning units do well when built into a city-owned site at 335 East 27th St. in the Kips Bay neighborhood, they could be allowed throughout the city — replacing many illegally subdivided apartments.

“New York City has 1.8 million one- and two-person households, but only 1 million studios and one-bedrooms,” according to the press release for Bloomberg’s adAPT NYC Competition.

Is this sounding familiar? In Boston and Cambridge, these apartments are called “innovation housing” when they’re not being called “Manhattan-like micro-apartments.” But in the Kendall Square version, fans are envisioning a test of several floors of units with 300 square feet of private space with access to common rooms for up to $1,000. In Boston, plans in the Innovation District are for similar 375- to 400-square-foot units costing $1,500 to $2,000.

Boston’s units are being built; Kendall Square’s are still in the planning stages.

The idea here is to provide housing for people who’d rather be in the lab or coding their start-up.

The idea in New York is simply to make room for all the people who want to be in New York.

“People from all over the world want to live in New York City, and we must develop a new, scalable housing model that is safe, affordable and innovative to meet their needs,” Bloomberg said in announcing the contest, part of his New Housing Marketplace Plan to finance the creation or preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing over the next couple of years. In this design competition, though, there is no city subsidy.

A pre-submission conference for potential design teams is to be held July 31 at New York’s American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture. The deadline for proposal submissions is Sept. 14.

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